When stepping onto Fairfield’s campus, the Stag is not the only mascot you will see. A small, pink whale is featured on the wardrobe items of much of the student body. From shirts, ties and belts to laptop decals, this little whale rivals Lucas the Stag.
This whale is the logo for the Connecticut-based clothing brand, Vineyard Vines. Even though the brand is based in Connecticut, it embodies the Martha’s Vineyard lifestyle. This lifestyle was a predominant part of the upbringing of the company’s owners, Ian and Shep Murray. The brand features upscale “weekend wear,” which includes pastel polos, button-down shirts, quarter zip fleeces, cashmere sweaters and many other snappy casual pieces, all stamped with the company’s signature pink whale.
With dress shirts starting at $128, the cost of these items are not necessarily affordable for most unemployed college students. The price of a dress shirt, for example, beats out traditional prep school and elite college outfitters like Brooks Brothers, which charges $92 per shirt.
Some students, like Allison Devaney ‘18, said they do not see the allure of such a highly priced brand. “The logo is a big part of the brand, because the shirts without the whale are just a shirt. It’s just what makes it identifiable,” she said. Devaney, a member of the Wounded Warrior Project club on campus, recently sold shirts as part of this club with a similar whale icon to raise money for the charity.
“There were two types of shirts I was selling for Family Weekend. One had a whale and one had a boat. The whale one sold out first. Everyone was like ‘That’s so cute,’ but I think it was because they identified the whale with Vineyard Vines,” she said. “I don’t feel pressured to wear Vineyard Vines, but I do think that the style, three-quarter zips and such, are the norm here. Even the campus bookstore sells the brand. Just the look of a big shirt and leggings is the casual look here, which Vineyard Vines sells.”
The look that the brand is marketing even comes with the slogan “Everyday Should Feel This Good”; and, according to David Buckley ‘17, it should.
Buckley was chosen through an application-based process to be the Vineyard Vines representative for Fairfield, where he is in charge of promoting the brand. His responsibilities include posting messages about Vineyard Vines on social media at least twice a week and hosting monthly events where he gives out free promotional items, like stickers and foam hats of the pink whale. Buckley’s public Instagram page is filled with pictures of the pink whale in many different locations.
Buckley describes Vineyard Vines’ ideal customers as “very preppy, want to live in the vacation-like feel [and] wealthier but still laid back. With any brand, especially with logos, there is a type of style or lifestyle that is attached,” he said.
When asked if he felt this was a positive or negative factor, considering the stigma that comes with wearing such highly-priced clothing, Buckley defended his brand, but also defended consumer choice. “It depends on who you ask. I have no issue with people who do like wearing labels. At Fairfield, there is a distinct image. In my opinion, I think you don’t have to like Vineyard Vines. It’s a personal choice. I personally just like the look and the clothes are good quality, so they last a long time,” he said.
The most surprising factor about the brand’s popularity is how enthusiastic its male customers are about purchasing it, said Buckley. “This is the first brand that men actually freak out about. They order from the flash sales online and sport the stickers,” he explained. However, Buckley thinks that despite its clothing for males, females and children of all ages, the ideal target demographic of Vineyard Vines is the college student. Since Fairfield is close to the beach, the company has no problem finding young consumers on campus who want to live a “vacation” lifestyle. “We target a large age group, but younger people are the most excited,” Buckley said.
Sophomore Victoria Asmus, a Vineyard Vines intern, thinks the company gets a bad reputation. “Many people think we are overpriced and only for rich snobs. This is not the case Vineyard Vines tries to make, but unfortunately many people who are not into the brand feel this way,” she said. Asmus works in the Stamford office along with other interns, who are coincidentally all from Fairfield with one exception. Her job as a merchandising and product design intern entails researching competitors, attending meetings, designing cards and many other odd jobs.
“I think the clothes are worth the price, because I design the clothes and see how expensive the whole process is. The amount of effort that goes into making a simple T-shirt is insane and would blow people’s minds, so I believe the price is set fairly. Of course being in college I would love to see $4 tees, but for any company, but that is just not the case,” she said.
Michael Sciandra, assistant professor of marketing at Fairfield, believes that Vineyard Vines is extremely successful in their marketing technique. “Vineyard Vines doesn’t just market clothes, but also markets a lifestyle,” he said. Sciandra had never really seen Vineyard Vines before teaching in Fairfield. He rarely saw it in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, and never came across it in his teaching job at the University of Pittsburgh. He believes that since most students are from the area, the company is no stranger to the fact that Fairfield has a wealthy demographic.
“Success in marketing is highly dependent on each organization and brand. Marketing is the development of a profitable customer relationship. One is able to identify products or offerings that meet the need or want that the customers have,” he said.
Sciandra believes that with Vineyard Vines, the need being met is for clothing that shows status. He thinks the company markets the idea of owning a boat and living off Long Island Sound. Since this lifestyle is very present here in New England, Sciandra thinks that as the company expands its business nationally it will need to tweak the associations and perceptions about the brand ever so slightly.
“Vineyard Vines needs to figure out what kind of brand they want to be and who they are going after. If they want to appeal to more places, they can’t just be a Long Island Sound brand, but instead maybe transition into more of a country club brand,” he said.
However, according to Asmus and Buckley, the brand has recently started to expand westward. The company now has stores as far west as California.
Assistant Professor of Philosophy Maggie Labinski had some thoughts about why the brand has been so successful on a college campus like Fairfield’s. “Social and political philosophers say that people build community where community does not exist, even if they know it is not going to last. For example, college only lasts four years, but there is still a strong desire to build community. Logos leave a breadcrumb path for students to follow to build that community,” she said.
Labinski believes that in order to make themselves more comfortable, students identify the label with a certain group of people that fit in. They create a sense of cohesion that allows students to create relationships.
“Brands make it easy for students to walk up to each other and say ‘Hey, I like your laptop sticker or shirt.’ It’s a way to be kind,” she said. Labinski also believes that Vineyard Vines specific logo of the light-hearted, cartoon-like whale carries a lot of weight. She believes that since students are growing up in a time of anxiety and depression, the whale can bring students back to a more childlike state.
“People are forced to deal with the realities of life at a younger and younger age. Maybe this happy pink whale brings people a bit of calmness in the midst of that,” she said.
Even though the brand is extremely prevalent across the campus, 75 percent of the students anonymously who were surveyed through an online poll generator said they do not feel pressured to wear Vineyard Vines.
This evidence suggests that even though students are buying Vineyard Vines, they are not necessarily doing so in order to fit in. The preppy stigma that surrounds Vineyard Vines has not deterred people from buying their clothes and has established the clothing company as a mainstay on campus.